Iain Morrison: Sean Lamont rugby’s great survivor

At the age of 34, Sean Lamont is bringing all his experience to bear at this Rugby World Cup. Picture: AFP/Getty Images
At the age of 34, Sean Lamont is bringing all his experience to bear at this Rugby World Cup. Picture: AFP/Getty Images
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His first cap came against Manu Samoa way back in 2004 when Tony Blair was sitting in No 10. Since then he has amassed a total of 98 international appearances and, with a little luck and a following wind, Sean Lamont should add one more to that impressive tally when Scotland face South Africa at St James’ Park on Saturday.

He is a marvel of longevity in an unforgiving sport. The elder of two brothers, Lamont is now 34. Younger sibling Rory proved a lot less durable, bowing out of the sport plagued by injuries aged 30. In contrast, Sean’s career has seen him play under five different Scotland coaches. Two caps away from a congratulatory telegraph from the Queen, he must feel justifiably proud?

You realise it is not about personal gain. It is team first and I will stand by that. If I stick on 98 caps and am never used again so be it

Sean Lamont

“Pride is the wrong word,” insists Lamont. “I am thankful. Look, from where I am standing at the moment, if those two caps never come and Scotland go on to win the world cup so be it, I will do all I can.

“I would love to get them but, at this point, I am not thinking about me at all. It is squad first. I have changed my focus the older I get. You realise it is not about personal gain. It is team first and I will stand by that. If I stick on this 98 and am never used again so be it.

“When I reached 50 I thought the next target was 100. It just creeps up. When you get in the 90s I felt I could go for another couple of years, ten caps a year roughly. When I hit the 90 I thought I had another couple of years playing and could sneak up there.

“Yes it is a nice little personal goal but not my sole focus. I want to keep playing for Scotland for as long as I can. If they [the next two caps] come they come. It is not about me at the moment.”

Lamont has played for so long he has experienced just about everything, including victory over South Africa in 2010. He has been pressed into service in just about every position in the outside backs including a memorable stint at full-back against Wales in 2011, when he was just about the only man in blue standing strong against a relentless tide of red jerseys. His lonely defiance that day was followed up by some harsh words directed at his own team-mates.

“Angry?” snapped Lamont after a spineless Scottish performance. “Am I angry? I am angry. I am very angry. I think everybody is. I know the coaches are. They’re f***ing raging and I am f***ing raging.”

Such honest outbursts are no longer tolerated but, then again, such outbursts are no longer needed. This Scotland team has several obvious fault lines, and you suspect that the South Africans will uncover a few more, but they hang tough together, which is a good starting point, they defend their line like it matters and they score tries. Lamont would go further.

“This is the best Scotland squad I’ve been in, bar none,” he states with conviction. “There are a few reasons, it’s because of the quality of the players we have and the depth we have and how close we are as a squad.

“I’m not just saying that because it’s the right thing to say, it’s because I genuinely feel that. It’s a really great place to be with the talent we have in the squad at the moment. It makes me want to stay for even longer. That’s why I’m pushing so hard to stick around. It’s a brilliant place to be, it’s so much fun and gives me so much enjoyment. That is a huge driving factor for myself so we are in a good place.”

This Scotland squad has its strengths but whether they will be enough to beat a motivated South African team for whom defeat may well spell the end of their World Cup is a moot point.

“We beat South Africa in 2010 and we nearly beat them over there in the mini-tournament with Samoa and Italy in 2013,” Lamont recalls. “They are a physical team and, if you match them physically, it takes away a big part of their game. You saw that in the Japan game. It is not the only part of their game. They have other parts to their game. Every team has a blip and they seem to have recovered well.

“If we beat South Africa that is us qualified. For Scotland to have qualified after three games would be something fantastic but we cannot get ahead of ourselves. It will be a physical game like every one in this pool.

“It is the old wounded animal scenario. I don’t think they will make the same mistake twice. Top teams don’t do that. We know what will be coming at us. They will be physical and will try to bully us.”

In the modern era it has become the norm for players to quit the international arena in order to prolong their club playing careers and, therefore, their earnings. Thankfully we still have characters like Lamont who will have to be dragged, kicking and screaming, from the international arena.

“I am going to stick through until my body give up or I’m not wanted,” he says. “I feel good, I want to dig in and the young guys keep me on my toes so I will try to drag them along.”